Waiting on the gurney for a cocktail of drugs to begin flowing through his body, Alva Campbell says he realised he would live to see another day.

"He did say it was a day he'd never forget," said David Stebbins, lawyer for the death row inmate who's execution was scrapped Thursday after doctors failed to find a suitable vein.

It was only the third time in modern US history an execution was stopped after it had already begun, reports News.com.au.

Sources close to the execution told news.com.au the situation was "surreal" and the prison had "started the process" but "couldn't find a usable vein due to his physical condition".


Officials tried for 30 minutes before the execution was called off, according to witnesses.

An empty hearse was seen leaving the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility a day after Campbell had been brought to what they call the "death house".

The day before his scheduled death, he was served lunch, his veins were checked, and spent the day working on crossword puzzles and watching TV. He was served his last meal just before 8:30pm.

The execution was initially delayed for an hour as officials assessed what to do next. The execution team attempted to place the needle in four more spots but soon after asked witnesses to leave the death chamber.

Campbell's motion for a stay of execution in the 6th Circuit suggested prior to the execution, "Campbell's physical characteristics make it sure or very likely that the execution team will be unable to successfully establish, and/or maintain peripheral IV access on him for the duration of the execution, thereby subjecting him to severe, needless physical and mental/psychological pain and suffering as Defendants stab him with needles repeatedly."

Alva Campbell. 18-year old Charles Dials was carjacked by escapee Alva Campbell in Columbus, Ohio. Dials was robbed and murdered. Photo / Supplied
Alva Campbell. 18-year old Charles Dials was carjacked by escapee Alva Campbell in Columbus, Ohio. Dials was robbed and murdered. Photo / Supplied

Alva's illnesses and ailments were already very likely to complicate the execution process. As far as sources could reveal to news.com.au before the fact, he was expected to "need to be rolled into the death chamber in a wheelchair.

"Prison staff did a full run-through of the execution with Alva and he was unable to lie down on the gurney," sources said.

"Instead, he will sit up during the execution with a special pillow in use to make sure he continues to breathe."


Campbell was indeed provided was a wedge-shaped pillow to help him breathe during the procedure.

Officials had been warned about Campbell's various health problems, but prison authorities said they were confident they could carry out the execution.

"Wednesday morning's failed execution should not come as a surprise to anyone," Griffin Hardy, Communications Manager for Sister Helen Prejean, told news.com.au after the failed attempt.

"Alva Campbell's attorneys repeatedly warned Governor Kasich and the courts that Alva is in very poor health. We hope that Governor Kasich will learn from this situation and enact a death penalty moratorium in Ohio."

A new execution date has been set for June 5, 2019, but advocates question the success of another attempt as Campbell's condition deteriorates.

During the appeals process the suggestion of a firing squad was raised, but is illegal under current Ohio law.

"Alva Campbell is an elderly man suffering with terminal cancer and other serious illnesses," Hardy, Communications Manager for Sister Helen Prejean, told news.com.au before the execution date.

"He can't even walk or breathe without assistance. He is not a threat to public safety."

"Alva Campbell committed some reprehensible crimes and we make no excuses for his actions. This execution will not make things right. It's time to stop the cycle of violence. Our government should not be in the business of killing people.

"Ohio is deviating from its standard execution procedures due to Alva's physical condition. This raises serious concerns about complications and the possibility of a botched execution."

Campbell is on death row for the 1997 carjacking and shooting of 18-year-old Charles Dials following his escape from custody on armed robbery charges.

Campbell, who had already served 20 years on an earlier murder charge, pretended he was paralysed to make his getaway.

But according to court documents, his condition is anything but a joke now. He has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and a variety of other ailments.

Those illnesses have resulted in multiple complications, including collapsed lungs and pneumonia.

Within the past two years, Alva's prostate was surgically removed due to cancer and his colon was surgically removed after it became gangrenous.

He now is forced to use an external colostomy bag. Alva's hip was also replaced and he currently undergoes 4 oxygen treatments daily. He cannot walk without the assistance of a walker.

He is also allergic to midazolam, the first drug in Ohio's lethal injection cocktail.

"His medical condition sets the stage for an execution that is so excruciating that it would violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment," The Guardian reported.

Campbell is now headed back to death row.